So you want to write about a real haunted house…

My mother spent two of her childhood years in a haunted house.
You don’t know my mother but I assure you she tells the truth.
It was the 1960’s and the American dream of homeownership was uppermost on my grandparents’s minds. The price tag was too good to be true for the location and the beauty of the home. Beautiful yard, room for all the kids, close to schools, around the corner from the best greasy burger joint in the county.
They bought it, and enjoyed it, for a time.
But there was that unbearable, weird smell under the kitchen sink that appeared and vanished as it pleased but was impervious to a complete cabinet and plumbing overhaul. There was the alcove in the upstairs hallway that just felt wrong, you had to run by it, even my teenaged aunt and uncles.
And to my mom, only five years old, there was the creature that rode on her shoulder. She could see it from the corner of her eye, could see it was looking at her as it sat there, going with her everywhere she went in the house, but she never dared look it in the eyes. There were the balls of light that floated through her room during the night, a presence she felt protected her from the creature.
There was the night that her mother, my grandma, told her about decades later—the night when grandpa wasn’t home and grandma’s bed scooted aggressively across the bedroom. It woke my tiny grandma up and she screamed at the evil force to leave her alone in the name of Jesus Christ. It worked, for that night at least.
They moved out as soon as they could and so does everyone else who buys it. That home is perpetually for sale. I grew up near it and watched the sign go up and down in the yard constantly, watched the paint change on the exterior, watched people try to live there. More often than not, there is a For Sale sign on that corner. According to realtor.com, the house sold in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2010, 2013, 2017, and 2019. They ought to leave the wooden post there permanently. The price tag is always great, the location ideal. I looked it up on Google Maps. There is a For Sale sign in the yard. A far cry from the usual loving, lifelong devotion a family gives a pioneer home in this area.

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Is it just me, or are those windows watching you?

When I was 13, I revisited an abandoned home near my other grandpa’s rural farm. I’d explored it as a child but it had been at least five years since I’d been inside. I went in, alone, and felt a force of evil in my bones that watched me from the top of the stairs and grabbed my ankles when I took a running leap out the window to escape that horrible feeling.
Needless to say, I believe in haunted houses.

20180210_121647I chose to take my author photo right outside this abandoned, haunted house—

I chose to take my author photo right outside this abandoned, haunted house—outside it. I’m standing next to the window I launched myself out of fifteen years before I took this. Good luck charm for a horror author, shall we say?If you read or write horror or any paranormal genre, I’m sure you’ve driven past a fantastically creepy old house and wondered what vengeful ghost walks its halls. I like to base many of my fictional ideas on real people and places. For example, I visited ghost towns as I was researching locations for a short story about a man relocating to a revamped ghost town. I looked at articles and photos, read plaques, breathed the air and felt the sun and the rain, and based the man’s home on the footprint of an old pioneer home. It makes a difference.

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Who stood looking out these windows, and what were they waiting for?

What about haunted houses in your writing? I wrote this post as a short overview of whether or not your poor characters would have been briefed on the paranormal mess they were moving into.

Death Disclosure Laws for Houses on the Market

Another thing my grandma told my mother decades after they’d lived in that haunted house was about the boy who shot his family and then himself. It wasn’t my grandparents’s house, the family lived in the one next door, but the murder/suicide happened in the street, just a few years before they moved in. Wouldn’t that have been nice to know when they were buying it?
Very few states require deaths on the premises to be disclosed. According to Zillow, in California, a death within the last three years must be disclosed; in Alaska, it’s one year; in South Dakota, it must only be disclosed if it’s a homicide. It’s standard good practice in the realtor business that, anywhere, if the buyer asks you should disclose all known deaths that occurred in the home. However, this is only codified law in six states: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

“So, if you own a home in Texas that was the scene of a chainsaw massacre in 1974, you can keep that your own little secret.” – Zillow

Regardless of the state the home is located in, the seller should tell a buyer about anything that would “stigmatize” the property, such as murder, suicide, or tragic accidents, just like they would need to disclose a mold problem. “Stigmatized properties” sell for 3% less and take 45% longer to sell than unstigmatized properties, according to a survey by Wright State University in 2011, so this may be a rule that some realtors place in a gray area. If you’re concerned about a home you want to buy, do the research yourself and ask questions, there might be vultures and dead bodies. Sign me up!

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Laws Disclosing Bodies on Premises

Basically, there are none. Just like in most states where it’s a good idea but not required to disclose deaths, it’s a good idea but not required to disclose any burials.
Home burials on family property were the norm in the U.S. until the Civil War, when mass deaths of soldiers far from home made embalming and cemetery burials normal.

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This headstone lies in a ghost town’s cemetery, but can you imagine mowing down some old bushes out back your new home and finding this?

According to an article from the New York Times, realtors say that the presence of bodies on the property is something to tell the buyer about before, not after, the sale, to avoid legal repercussions of potentially stigmatized property, and that it depends on the buyer whether they are comfortable with the graves or not. It isn’t a law, though.
It is important to note that even if a grave is on your property, it is still illegal to remove the marker or (you sick bastard) the body itself. So if you got roped into some friendly neighborhood corpses, make the most of it. Lie down on their graves and let the vines grow through your rib bones.

What About Paranormal Disclosure Laws?

Only two U.S. states require any sort of disclosure regarding paranormal activity. In New York, if you have publicized that your home is haunted but then fail to talk about it with a future buyer, the courts have precedent to dissolve the contract. Ouch. If you ask if the house is haunted in New Jersey, they have to tell you—but only if you ask.
Two other U.S. states take the opposite view. In Minnesota and Massachusetts, their law specifically says that paranormal activity does not need to be disclosed to a buyer. Beware of those ancient Massachusetts brownstones…
For details about each U.S. state, check out the list on Zillow.

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What angry spirit is bound to these forsaken walls?

If you’re dead serious about researching a particular home, try DiedinHouse.com. This website provides reports that include murders, suicides, accidental deaths, and natural deaths as well as meth labs, fires, sex offender registry history, other names associated with the address, and other property information. Each report will run you $12, though, so it isn’t as nifty a general haunted house research tool as you could hope.
While I like to talk big as a horror author and say I’d love to live in a haunted house, my one brush with a vengeful spirit sent me running and I didn’t return for fifteen years.

Do you believe in haunted houses? Would you choose to live in one? Leave a comment.

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2 thoughts on “So you want to write about a real haunted house…

Add yours

  1. Great post, there is a house just up the street from my house that has a famous ghost, believed to be a young house maid who committed suicide on finding she was pregnant. There have been reports of spirits on the university campus on which I work, a number of first nation students have sworn to me that they feel uncomfortable in a particular building because of the presence they feel there, even some of our security guards have told me the same story and they get an uncomfortable feeling in that building.
    Do I believe in hauntings? I am not sure what exactly it is that we experience but I certainly believe that there are places/locations where something does not seem quite normal I guess. I am happy exploring such environments but preferably not alone, would I choose I choose to live in one? Maybe depending on the history. Really enjoyed reading this post.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Sharon!
      I agree that most people have a certain sensitivity but I think it depends on a person, how open they are to that sort of energy. I definitely believe in hauntings but I couldn’t say if they are ghosts, demons, lingering energy, whatever. I just know that there were two abandoned houses near my grandpa’s farm. In one, I felt nothing, in the other I felt a physical force. I’d love to know what is going on but I think it’s one of those unsolvable mysteries. People will never agree on something so intangible.
      Thanks for reading!

      Like

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